It's about due time for Amazon to unveil a next-generation Echo speaker, and sources tell Engadget that the next version will place a large focus on audio performance in an effort to better compete with the upcoming Apple HomePod.
Apple revealed its first Siri-enabled speaker, the HomePod, at its Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC) last month. The speaker appears to be a sort of cross between the Echo and Sonos speakers, featuring smart, voice-control capabilities as well as enhanced music integration and audio features. It uses spatial awareness through automatic room-sensing technology, for example, that senses its location in a room and adjusts audio accordingly - a feature that sounds a lot like Sonos' Trueplay technology. It is also designed to work seamlessly with Apple Music, able to learn the user's preferences and tastes over time, handle advanced searches in the music library, answer questions about songs, and create a shared Up Next queue. While the Amazon Echo can be used to control music from a variety of third-party devices and services, and can function as a standalone speaker for music and other audio playback, Apple's concentration on the audio side of the equation poses some stiff competition for the market leader.
According to Engadget, the next Echo will "improve on the first speaker in practically every way." In addition to supposedly being smaller and slimmer than the original, it may also include a cloth versus plastic covering - better emulating a portable speaker with a grille. There will reportedly be several tweeters this time, competing with the seven tweeters in the HomePod; and an improved microphone setup to allow for better hearing your commands from further distances.
The Echo has become the standard for smart, voice-controlled speakers in the U.S. But with the much sleeker looking Google Home and soon Apple HomePod on the market, along with other competitors like the Microsoft Cortana-enabled Harman Kardon Invoke, it may be time for Amazon to look at a design refresh. Amazon does also offer the uber-small and sleek Echo Dot as a more affordable option, but it is meant more to be connected to other speakers versus function as a music speaker on its own.
That said, there is something to say about that original tall, cylindrical design with the illuminated blue ring that dutifully lights up when you ask it a question or give it a command. It really doesn't take up that much more room than others, seeing as it's larger more so in height than width. But design sensibilities, and better audio integration, are always on consumers' minds. And in the world of technology, two years is a long time to maintain a product.
We can likely look for a new Echo some time in the Fall. Here's hoping it makes its way to Canada by then.